The Importance of Using Open-Ended Questions

The Importance of Using Open-Ended Questions

Two kinds of questions are recommended when you talk with children about child abuse or neglect. Each has a different purpose. When you are asking a child about something that could be awkward, uncomfortable, embarrassing, shameful, or sensitive, open-ended questions give you the best chance of getting the whole story. When you need specific facts, who, when, and where, closed-ended questions are useful.

Open-ended questions can’t be answered with a yes or no. These questions are used to paint a big picture, to help you gain information from a child in his or her own words. Open-ended questions allow the child to tell the full story without being influenced by the question itself, painting the big picture for you so that you can understand the circumstances around an injury or behavior pattern.



  • I notice that you have a bruise. How did it happen?
  • Tell me more about that.
  • You seem to get angry when I asked you that question. (Pause to allow child to respond.)



Evidence of abuse or neglect is found.

In Depth:

What Should I Do if I Notice an Indicator? 

If you notice a physical and/or behavioral indication, this will raise a red flag in your mind of possible abuse or neglect. The next step is seeking information about the circumstances around the indicator. This can lead to three possible outcomes.

1 You find out the indicator is not caused by child abuse or neglect. If the family needs primary prevention, you can use materials to counsel parents and provide referrals to services that will help the parents or guardians.

2. You find information to form a reasonable suspicion that the indicator is the result of abuse or neglect. You call the Child Abuse Hotline to report your suspicion.

3. You don’t get enough information about the indicator to form a reasonable suspicion, but you still feel concerned or worried about the child. You call the Child Abuse Hotline for a consultation.